Cody Hearst’s acrobatic catch in the second quarter for a TD
By Rich Rhoades
SLIPPERY ROCK — How do you win a big playoff game when you lose the turnover battle?
Once again, a balanced Clarion Bobcats offense churned out a strong performance and overcame four turnovers in a 35-20 win over District 10 champion Lakeview Saturday afternoon at Slippery Rock University’s Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.
Clarion’s first-ever state playoff win landed the 14-0 Bobcats in the PIAA Class A semifinals against WPIAL champion North Catholic (14-0), which advanced with a 48-7 rout of District 5’s Tussey Mountain Friday night. They’ll square off in District 9 territory at DuBois’ E.J. Mansell Stadium next Friday at 7 p.m.
“I felt there’s a destiny with this team,” Bobcats head coach Larry Wiser said. “We talked about that coming out of camp. It’s their work ethic and they’re ready to play the next game. We have all kind of balance and they did what they hoped to do today.”
Balance almost literally — 201 rushing, 188 passing.
Quarterback John Katis sparked the Bobcats out of the gate, throwing all three of his touchdown passes in the first half. After starting the game with six straight completions for 135 yards, he wound up completing 12 of 18 passes for 188 yards, most of that coming in the first half. He did throw his first interception of the season in the second half.
“He’s going to make a great college quarterback,” Wiser said. “People have underestimated him. He has a great arm and makes good decisions. They put great pressure on him and had some good passes off his back foot, so he has some arm strength.”
Senior receiver Cody Hearst was Katis’ main recipient, catching 7 balls for 131 yards, his acrobatic 17-yarder coming with him grabbing a tipped ball while laying in the end zone to put the Bobcats up 21-14 with 1:29 left in the first half.
“How about Cody Hearst’s catch?” Wiser said. “The Steelers need to put him out there. They don’t need (Emmanuel) Sanders out there, put Hearst in. I couldn’t believe it. He’s made catches like that all year and John did a great job throwing it (into the wind).”
Hearst also caught a 6-yarder from Katis six seconds into the second quarter to put Clarion up 14-0.
Although the Bobcats turned the ball over four times, Lakeview could only cash in on of those giveaways. The Sailors (12-2) got within 28-20 on fullback Marquis Spence’s 1-yard run capped a 9-play, 63-yard drive after a Bobcats fumble with 7:03 left in the game.
But Clarion answered Lakeview with a 13-play, 69-yard scoring drive to put the game away. Damien Slike put Clarion up 35-20 with a 2-yard run with 1:44 remaining. The key play of the drive came on Katis’ 8-yard pass to Tyler Allen on fourth-and-two from the Lakeview 20 with 2:22 remaining.
“We played four quarters today,” said Wiser, whose team wasn’t tested much at all this season, especially late in games with its first 13 games finished with the Mercy Rule running clock. “The last seven, eight minutes, you could see the kids’ resolve to finish the thing. Even after that last fumble … hopefully the adversity we faced with the turnovers and the close game going into the fourth quarter will help us next week.”
The Bobcats overcame an impressive effort by Sailors workhorse running back Blake Reddick, who ran for 225 yards on 30 carries with a touchdown. But Reddick had 172 of those yards in the first half and was held to 53 yards on 13 carries in the second half.
“We knew it was going to be a big game on the offensive and defensive lines for both teams,” Wiser said. “You watch (Reddick) and you wonder how he breaks tackles. He’s one of the best backs I’ve coached against, I have to say that.”
One of Reddick’s second-half carries went for a big 1-yard loss on what turned out to be a disastrous fourth down decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Sailors’ own 31 late in the third quarter.
“Our safety didn’t get back on the play,” Wiser said. “If he breaks through there, we’re in trouble. It was kind of a sellout I guess for both of us. It was a great defensive stand there. We moved some personnel around to match up better there. They went all out and we went all out and that was a big stop defensively.”
Two plays later, the Bobcats scored on Ian Corbett’s 27-yard run to put Clarion up 28-14 with 2:39 left in the quarter.
“I wanted to get a touchdown, but it was also important that we stop their momentum that they picked up in the second quarter,” Wiser said. “I think that was a big play there.”
With Lakeview, led by standout lineman Sam Breese, taking away the inside running lanes used mostly all season by Bobcats 1,800-yard rusher Damien Slike, Corbett went for 164 yards on 17 carries.
“He’s a state-caliber track star,” Wiser said of Corbett, who went into the game with 1,093 yards on just 67 carries. “Those who have been watching him all year have seen that.”
The Bobcats dominated the first quarter and led 14-0 six seconds into the second quarter, yet it could have been worse. After recovering a Lakeview fumble four plays after taking a 7-0 lead, the Bobcats went back to work and appeared to hit a big play on a Katis to Hearst connection. They did complete the pass for 43 yards to the Lakeview 15, but Reddick made a nifty play of stripping Hearst of the ball before he fell to the ground for the first Bobcats turnover of the game.
Reddick also stripped Corbett of a ball leading to the third Bobcats turnover midway through the third quarter.
Lakeview followed Clarion’s second score with its first scoring drive with six plays going for 73 yards. Reddick capped the possession with a 3-yard TD run. The drive was extended by a 10-yard Clarion pass interference on fourth-and-six from the Bobcats’ 21. That turned out to be the Bobcats’ lone penalty of the game.
Clarion drove to the Lakeview 33 in the ensuing possession, but stalled on downs after three straight Katis incomplete passes. Lakeview took over and went 67 yards on seven plays with quarterback Zach Bigley throwing an 8-yard pass to Brandon Rice. After starting the first scoring drive with a 48-yard run, Reddick sparked the second drive with a 46-yard run to the Bobcats’ 10.
Lakeview misfired both times it tried point-after kicks. VanDusen missed after the Sailors’ first touchdown, but Bigley’s two-point pass to Reddick on the second TD made up for the first miss to tie the game at 14-14 with 4:30 left in the first half. His point-after kick that could’ve gotten the Sailors within seven points in the fourth quarter was easily blocked by Clarion’s Antonio Troese.
The Bobcats answered two of Lakeview’s three touchdowns with one of their own, the first coming on Hearst’s acrobatic catch as he grabbed a tipped pass in the end zone by VanDusen to give the Bobcats the lead for good at 21-14.
NOTES: The Bobcats will try to become just the third team to reach the state finals, joining Keystone (1989) and Smethport (1992). It’s the 12th time in 26 years of PIAA playoffs that District 9 has sent a Class A team to the semifinals, the fifth time in the past 10 seasons and the second year in a row. Last year, Port Allegany lost to eventual state champion Clairton, 44-12. … Clarion, Smethport (1992) and Kane (2007) are the only teams in district history to win 14 games in one season. … North Catholic is also making its first-ever state semifinal appearance in what’s also its first trip to the PIAA playoffs. … Katis’ stretch of passes without an interception ended at 149 attempts dating back to last season’s loss to Port Allegany in the district finals.
CLARION 35, LAKEVIEW 20
Score by Quarters
Clarion 7 14 7 7 – 35
Lakeview 0 14 0 6 – 20
C – Damien Slike 1 pass from John Katis (Antonio Troese kick), 6:23.
C – Cody Hearst 6 pass from John Katis (Antonio Troese kick), 11:54.
L – Blake Reddick 3 run (kick failed), 9:21.
L – Brandon Rice 8 pass from Zach Bigley (Blake Reddick pass from Zach Bigley), 4:30.
C – Cody Hearst 17 pass from John Katis (Antonio Troese kick), 1:29.
C – Ian Corbett 27 run (Antonio Troese kick), 2:39.
L – Marquis Spence 1 run (kick blocked), 7:03.
C – Damien Slike 2 run (Antonio Troese kick), 1:44.
First Downs 20 15
Rushes-Yards 41-201 45-285
Passing: Comp-Att-Int 12-18-1 4-15-2
Passing Yards 188 49
Total Yards 399 334
Fumbles-Lost 5-3 2-1
Punts-Avg 0-0 4-27.8
Penalties-Yards 1-10 7-62
Rushing — Clarion: Ian Corbett 17-164, Damien Slike 13-36, Tanner Corbett 3-16, Cody Hearst 1-3, John Katis 1-(-3), Team 5-(-15). Lakeview: Blake Reddick 30-225, Marquis Spence 10-34, Zach Bigley 5-26.
Passing — Clarion: John Katis 12-for-18, 188 yards, 3 TDs, 1 Int. Lakeview: Zach Bigley 4-for-14, 49 yards, 1 TD, 2 Ints.; Team 0-for-1.
Receiving — Clarion: Cody Hearst 7-131, Damien Slike 2-29, Antonio Troese 1-11, Ian Corbett 1-9, Tyler Allen 1-8.
Interceptions — Clarion: Tanner Corbett, Tyler Allen. Lakeview: Zach VanDusen.